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Washington State Judge Upholds City Ban on Pot Shops

Mark Miller

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An attempt to overturn the city of Kennewick’s ban on cannabis businesses on the grounds that it is discriminatory was thrown out of court last week. Benton County Superior Court Judge Bruce Spanner dismissed the lawsuit brought by two owners of a recreational pot store in Washington State who alleged Kennewick’s ban prohibits minorities from accessing legal marijuana.

Through a lottery, the owners of Americanna Weed, Tad Seaton and Cynthia Ventura, were granted a state pot business license to open up shop in Kennewick. However, on September 2, 2014, the city council unanimously voted to permanently outlaw all cannabis-related companies.

Americanna argued that Kennewick banning legal pot stores results in black market sales of illicit herb, bringing crime and violence to minority neighborhoods. Kennewick City Attorney Lisa Beaton retorted the plaintiffs failed to demonstrate the city council ordinance was designed to prevent minorities from obtaining legal marijuana, and Judge Spanner concurred.

Seaton and Ventura had originally filed a different petition in August, which sought to reverse Kennewick’s local legislative undermining of I-502, the voter approved measure that legalized recreational pot throughout Washington State in 2012. However, that particular suit was dismissed by Benton County Superior Court Judge Vic VanderSchoor on November 21, after he ruled Kennewick’s zoning ordinance prohibiting pot businesses was not unconstitutional and cannot be preempted by I-502.

Judge VanderSchoor’s decision marked the third instance a state superior court judge sided with State Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s January 2014 formal opinion that local governments can ban cannabis companies. The decision will be appealed by Americanna.

Americanna Weed has also filed suit against the Washington Liquor Control Board, which regulates recreational marijuana, in order to force the state agency to sue individual cities and counties such as Kennewick that prohibit pot businesses. That case has yet to be heard in court.

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